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Middle Eastern Holocaust survivors may be sued over legal fees

Families say survivors of pogroms in Iraq, North Africa were pressured by lawyers, who then racked up fees negotiating government compensation

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Jewish immigrants from Iraq arriving at Atlit transit camp, June 1951 (photo credit: GPO)
Jewish immigrants from Iraq arriving at Atlit transit camp, June 1951 (photo credit: GPO)

Hundreds of Jewish survivors of Nazi-inspired pogroms in Iraq and North Africa are facing legal proceedings in Israel that would see their property or income repossessed by the state after failing to pay legal fees to the attorneys who helped them secure compensation from the state.

The survivors of the violence, considered part of the Holocaust, said the attorneys racked up “excessive” fees while negotiating financial assistance made available to them by the Finance Ministry last year.

Families of the survivors said their relatives were pressured to sign over power of attorney to the lawyers without fully understanding the documents.

Last year, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announced Israeli Jews from Iraq, Morocco and Algeria who suffered persecution during the period of the Holocaust would be eligible to receive an annual monetary grant, a step that he called “righting a historical wrong.”

The benefits are to be given to Jews from Algeria and Morocco who suffered from anti-Semitism between 1940 and 1942, and to Jews from Iraq who were targeted in the Farhud pogroms in Baghdad in June 1941.

These survivors are entitled to an additional annual payment of NIS 3,600 (approx. $950) and will be exempt from paying for their medication.

The decision is based on historical evidence presented to the treasury in a series of lawsuits filed by Iraqi Jews, who argued that they deserved recognition and compensation like Jews who suffered the Holocaust in Europe.

Historians see a connection between Nazi Germany and the acts of murder, robbery and persecution experienced by Jews in Arab countries during World War II. Germany encouraged such acts, historians say.

Other than European Jews, only Jews from Libya and from Tunisia have to date been eligible for compensation as Holocaust survivors, and only Jews who arrived in Israel from these countries by 1953 are eligible for compensation.

Those benefits change according to certain criteria, but the amount begins at NIS 26,400 ($7,000) per year — far higher than the sums refugees from Iraq and North Africa will receive.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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